A Conversation about Jesus’ Death – March 18, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching at Raleigh Mennonite Feb. 18, 2018Melissa changed up the format a little this Sunday for her sermon. Speaking from John 19:1-16a about Jesus’ trial and condemnation to death, she provided an introduction then invited the congregation to help answer the age-old question, “Why did Jesus die?”  There have been multiple perspectives or understandings of why Jesus was crucified. We interpret scripture together in community.

In the Gospel of John we see that Jesus dies not for our sins but because of our sins. He refuses to protect himself from the world. Jesus is love, and the world kills him for it.

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The Banality of Evil – March 11, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching at Raleigh Mennonite Feb. 18, 2018Before Melissa’s sermon, we listened to Billie Holiday’s rendition of the haunting song “Strange Fruit.”  The sermon was based on John 18:28-40, about Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.

Crucifixions were a common thing during Roman rule. They served not so much as death penalties as they were a form of social control.  Bodies on crosses were strategically placed at crossroads to remind the people of the power of Rome to crush their dreams for freedom. In that way, they were more like the lynchings that took so many black men’s lives in the Jim Crow south than they were modern forms of capital punishment. “Every cross is a lynching tree, and every lynching tree is a cross,” wrote James Cone.  Jesus’ trial was like so many trials of black men during that era: a sham.

Pilate plays a pivotal role in the trial, even though he was just trying to find middle ground, going between the religious officials and Jesus. He was just trying to do his job. Something many of us try to do as we navigate our circumstances.

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Making the Ordinary Extraordinary – Feb. 25, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching Feb. 5, 2018John 13:1-17Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

The rituals of the Christian life are ordinary things made extraordinary for a moment. Jesus has a knack for this, taking what is ordinary and turning it back for us to look at it again: song, bread, water, wine.

As we anticipate the coming of Holy Week in a few weeks, Melissa invites us into a patient act of love. Consider making space in your life to get into the story that unfolds, to trace it through the week in the people you see around you, to take time off to live it out.

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“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Feb. 18, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching at Raleigh Mennonite Feb. 18, 2018John 11:1-44 – The Death of Lazarus

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a time for prayer as we anticipate with sorrow Jesus’ death. This year Ash Wednesday was marked by the death of 17 students and teachers at the High School in Parkland, Fl. The Ash Wednesday cross contains ashes representing death. Melissa reminds us that the same oil is used to mark us as Christians when we are baptized. The scripture recounts Lazarus’ death and resurrection. A resurrection that allows us to believe in a new world where we are safe in God’s light. A world where we no longer fear death.

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The Well Woman & Nicodemus – Feb. 4, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching Feb. 5, 2018Melissa contrasted last Sunday’s Gospel of John passage with this week’s from John 4:1-42. Last week Nicodemus came and left in the cover of darkness. It takes him time to process his experiences with Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well encounters Jesus and soon after boldly proclaims to the people around her, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” We’re shown not a right and wrong way to encounter Jesus, but two human lives, two stories. We’re shown that being in this life of being drawn near to God looks like many things, and that we too will be, and need, many stories like these.

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Born of Water & Spirit – Jan. 28, 2018

Melissa Florer-Bixler preaching at RMC on Jan. 21, 2018Today’s message came out of John 3:1-21. Nicodemus wasn’t quite ready to trust Jesus yet, approaching him at night.  He asks what he must do to enter the kingdom. Jesus’ initial responses are rather nebulous. Then we hear what is maybe the best known verse in the Bible. Melissa helps unpack it all.

In John’s gospel, we see bringing about the kingdom happens here and now, not in some eternal future.

In the Bible, belief is not a matter of checking off a box in your mind. Belief in God is a matter of trust.

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Radical Communion – Jan. 21, 2018

Melissa preaching on Oct. 29, 2017Melissa brought the sermon today, based on John 2:13-25. Jesus coming onto the scene means a radical departure from every common expectation about worship and economics and the places where they meet.  We’re reminded by this passage in John, as well as by many of the old testament prophets like Zechariah and Nehemiah, that we have a long history of getting comfortable with bad practices as worshipers of God.

This Sunday was Worldwide Communion Sunday. Our Anabaptist sister churches worldwide have offered us astounding examples of radical welcome that shake us outside the boundaries of respectability and law abiding. They remind us of a stark alternative to the rampant nationalist and xenophobic ideologies that have gripped so many here in the U.S.  These churches have shown us what it means to follow after the one who flips over tables. They show us that following Jesus will not allow us to fly under the radar, to stay respectable, to play along by the rules any more.

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The Word Became Flesh – Dec. 24, 2017

At this Christmas Eve service Will read from John 1:1-18 before Issac Villegas read Melissa’s sermon since Melissa had lost her voice.

God invites us to hear the cry of an infant. We are welcomed, never forced to see the whole of God’s love hangs on the cry of a baby born into poverty. A love that reaches for every nameless child kidnapped by the Bocha Haran, every Muslim killed at prayer by a bomb, every kid in this country whose parents have been deported. In the crackling heat of creation, when the forces of God’s creative wind and energy and power are pressed down into the life of a child, we are invited to see the world and to love it.

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Mary’s Soul Cries Out – Dec. 17, 2017

Melissa preaching Dec. 17, 2017 with many Marys on the table in front of her.The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, or Joy Sunday.

We focused our attention on Mary, the mother of Jesus, through the  depictions of Mary displayed on the front table from many of our nativity scenes. Melissa opened her message, based on Luke 1:26-38, 46-56, by talking about her visit to Duke Chapel to see the life-sized paper doll depictions of Mary on display. They included the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Byzantine Theotokos, and Madonna and Child of Soweto.

She also showed the cartoon by Everett Paterson called José y Maria, a modern-day down-and-out couple outside of a gas station convenience store searching for a place to stay.

Mary, the first priest, born into poverty, a patriarchal culture that considered women property, the female body a dirty curse. A young woman pressed in on every side. And an angel says that she is favored. Looked upon as one with worth, a life that has been noted, that, though it matters to no one else, matters to God.

When our belief grows thin due to the vagaries of the world, remember that Mary was there, at the beginning and at the end. “She is always here, bearing witness to all of it–to the grace and the terror, to the injustice and the hope.”

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Scraps of Hope – Dec. 10, 2017

Melissa preaches at Raleigh Mennonite ChurchThis second Sunday of Advent Melissa preached from Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of the valley of dry bones. She tells the story of Lila and of Mansour Omari, artfully weaving all three stories together.

Perhaps the Bible is written in our blood. Our life scraped out onto these scraps of a story.  Our deepest fears. Our violence. Our desires for vengeance. Our helplessness. Our need. Our world of exile and war.  And hope…and hope…and hope….  Always coming back to life. Bone to bone, covered with our flesh; mine and yours. A body called alive.

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Our Wholeness is Their Wholeness – Nov. 26, 2017

Melissa preaching on Oct. 29, 2017Melissa brought the sermon based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14. “You’re going to live here and you’re going to die here,” is not what those taken from Jerusalem and living in exile in Babylon wanted to hear. They ended up being changed by their neighbors in the process of living among them.

Our faith is tied up in the flourishing of our neighbors. As we live out our faith, the boundaries between “us” and “them” fade in and out of view.  While it’s easier to build up our own tribe than to be enmeshed in the lives of those around us, our wholeness is bound up in the wholeness of others we encounter.

When it comes to the end of the story though, we will discover we are not Judah. We are Babylon. We are here today as a Gentile people, grafted into the life of God’s chosen  people because God made the boundary between God’s people and those of us outside the covenant porous. In Jesus’ body and blood, we have been brought here.

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